Talent rarely flourishes in a vacuum; it needs to be nourished by great mentors and sponsors. Without the Brian Epsteins, John Hammonds and Barry Gordys of the world, we probably would have never heard from some of our most beloved artists.
For Errol Brown (November 12, 1943-May 6, 2015) and Hot Chocolate, that role was played by two British music legends, John Lennon and producer Mickie Most.
Lennon became involved when Hot Chocolate submitted its reggae version of “Give Peace A Chance” to Apple Records. They’d recorded it with new lyrics of their own and needed permission to release the song. Assuming their version would go straight to the trash bin, they didn’t hold out a lot of hope. But a week after receiving it, Apple called to say Lennon had heard the recording, loved it and wanted to sign the band right away! The year was 1969 and The Beatles were on the brink of breaking up, so, unfortunately, the relationship didn’t last.
Mickie Most picked up the band, shortened its name from “The Hot Chocolate Band” to “Hot Chocolate” and proceeded to produce, record and release a string of hits that would last through the 1970s into the 1980s. Hot Chocolate was one of only three acts to make the charts in every single year of the 1970s. (The other two were Elvis Presley and Diana Ross.)
In an interview with Blues and Soul magazine, Brown said of Most: “…you had to have a very strong stomach to work for him…all your ego had to go out the window! But I had SO much respect for him. He’d sold millions of records, he had great ears, and I never found anyone else like him ever again.”
Hot Chocolate’s biggest hit, “You Sexy Thing,” was originally banished to the B-Side by Most. Knowing it wasn’t going to get top billing, Brown played it loose in the studio, singing it an octave higher than his normal range. A DJ in America loved it an urged the label to re-release with “You Sexy Thing” as the A-side. Brown re-recorded it in his usual vocal range, but DJs in the States pushed back. They wanted to keep the quirky original.
Released in 1975, it almost topped at #1 in the UK charts, only to be beat out by Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody.” It resurfaced at #6 in 1997 when it made it onto the soundtrack of the hit movie The Full Monty.